Tag Archives: supervision

Supervising team coaches

12 Jun

Coaches’ attitudes towards supervision vary widely, not least in reflection of what they see as the point or purpose of supervision. One position is that supervision is about helping new coaches embed and expand the competences they have learned in their initial training – after which it becomes an optional cost. The opposite position is that supervision is about supporting coaches throughout their careers, as they take on more complex and demanding assignments. It’s not surprising that the most mature, most capable coaches we observe in assessment centres regard coaching as an integral and essential part of their continued development – not a cost, but an opportunity.

The issue of supervising team coaches is now firmly on the agenda of researchers and some of the more forward-thinking professional bodies. Across the world, coaches trained in one-to-one interventions have morphed into team coaches, often with little or no additional or special training for the role. In my workshops and interviews with these coaches, I frequently find that “team coaches”:

  • Do not distinguish between coaching individual members of the same team and coaching the team collectively
  • Have little appreciation of the complexity of team dynamics
  • Often inadvertently create dependency in a way they would not dream of doing in one-to-one situations
  • Confuse sorting out a specific team issue (which may be more aligned to consultancy or facilitation) with enabling the team to develop its capacity to grow (i.e. to self-coach).

The need for specialist team coach supervision is evident. However, there are relatively few coach supervisors, who have the relevant experience and/or qualifications to work in this more complex environment. (I am making the assumption here that a supervisor should by and large have a deep knowledge of the relevant discipline.) So we have a real and present potential that the quality of team coaching may not be sufficient to address the needs of team coaches.

We also don’t have a clear theory or substantial body of knowledge about what good team coach supervision looks like. (Not surprising, really, given that the literature on team coaching itself isn’t very extensive – yet.) A good starting point is therefore to build upon and extend existing approaches within one-to-one supervision.

Peter Hawkins’ seven-eyed model is arguably the best-known model of coaching supervision, at least in Europe and the non-US world. It offers a multi-dimensional view of the coaching assignment and relationships – including the relationship between the coach and the supervisor – that supports both depth and breadth in the supervisory dialogue.

The broad approach can also be used to supervise team coaches. However, because team coaching is significantly more complex and demanding than one-to-one coaching, supervising team coaching involves at least three additional perspectives (or “eyes”). Moreover, each of the original perspectives may have additional facets, which may need to be taken into account.

The table below shows an adaptation of Hawkins’ model, with these three dimensions added (in red), along with some comments on factors that the team coach supervisor may need to take into account.

The “eye” Some team coaching issues
1) The client system Each member of the team may have his or her own agenda, which may or may not be revealed to other members. The team leader, in particular, may be under pressures from above, which they do not want to burden the team with. So there are multiple individual client systems to take into account. Whereas in one to one coaching, the coach can gain insights into the client system by virtue of the intimacy of the conversation and the relationship, it is much more difficult (and time consuming) to do so in a team context.
1a) The team’s internal systems Team performance depends to a significant extent on how the members interact. Communication processes, task processes and relationships all have an impact. Informal systems and processes may be more important than formal.
2) The intervention Within a one-to-one conversation, the potential to notice what is happening with the client is relatively high. In team coaching, an intervention may “land” with some team members and not with others. The coach will focus mainly on the collective dynamics and may only notice individual reactions by their impact on the group, or when a member withdraws from the conversation. Balancing attentiveness to the team and to the individuals within it is therefore a core skill for a team coach.

Contracting – important in all coaching – becomes critical in team coaching, particularly in terms of:

·      establishing expectations (for example, do the team and the leader share the same expectations and hopes for team coaching?)

·      re-contracting – reacting to what is happening in the team to make immediate readjustments to what is happening

·      ensuring that the team retains responsibility for everything (including internal conflict in the moment)

3) The relationship between the team and the coach In one-to-one coaching, clients often place the blame for problems on their boss, or on colleagues. In a team coaching context, process failures (or process successes, where the team is forced to see itself in a way it does not want to confront) often result in the team directing the blame towards the coach. For example, rather than face up to internal conflict, the team may use the coach as a convenient scapegoat. Inexperienced team coaches can feel overwhelmed by this; more experienced ones know how to use this to help the team explore its internal dynamics.
3a) The relationship between individual team members and the coach There are multiple, often contradictory relationships between individual team members and the team coach. Managing issues, such as confidentiality, can be problematic.
3b) The relationship between the leader and the coach Having a special relationship with the team leader can undermine the team coaching process; yet it’s important to have their support.
4) The team coach’s processes In the relatively comfort of a one-to-one conversation, many coaches still have some level of performance anxiety. In the presence of a team, this can be multiplied many times over.

It’s also more difficult for a team coach to reflect during the coaching conversation. In the pauses in one-to-one coaching, the coach has time to consider, with only part of their attention directed to observing the client. In team coaching, the coach has many more people to observe. This is ne of the reasons why team coaching is typically so tiring and why supervision also tends to address issues of personal resilience.

5) The relationship between the supervisor and the team coach In this “eye”, there is little to distinguish between one-to-one and team coaching. The basic functions of normative, formative and restorative seem to be pretty much the same.
6) The supervisor’s processes Supervision involves, at least to some extent, a sense of “being in the room” with the coach as they describe their intervention. In a team coaching context, there is typically so much going on in the session that the coach is recalling, that it can be much harder for the supervisor to sense what is going on. The issue is compounded by the fact that team coaching sessions are typically longer than one-to-one sessions.
7) The wider context In team coaching, the wider context is often wider. Issues of overlapping systems, corporate culture and – especially for senior leadership teams – societal impact may all be present. We are frequently dealing with a level of complexity that the human mind is not equipped to deal with. The supervisor helps the coach help the team to clarify issues at the micro and macro levels, but the systems in between are often too complex and too dynamic to comprehend. Supervision in team coaching is often about assisting the coach in coming to terms with not knowing and not being able to exercise control – as is also, of course, the case for the team, although the members may find this difficult to endorse.

The analysis in this table is a first pass at collating experiences from team coaches and a limited number of team coach supervisors. In creating it, I have become even more conscious of how much more research and analysis is needed. The good news is that the structure of the seven (or ten!) eyes remains relevant and practical.


© David Clutterbuck, 2015

Restorative role of a supervisor

12 Jun

The word restorative implies “putting back” or “regaining”. An effective supervisor helps you to restore what you need to be a fully functioning coach (which may not be that different from what you need to be a fully functioning individual, although the supervisor is not expected to be a counsellor or therapist). Coaching other people through difficult issues can be exhilarating, when we can see the immediate impacts; but it can also be deflating, when the client doesn’t seem to be making the progress we and/or their sponsor thinks they should.

Restorative functions in coaching can be seen in terms of the matrix below, developed by one of us (David) in response to conversations with coaches about how they restore their energy and the factors that influence their readiness for coaching. A good supervisor should be capable of offering support in all these areas. To explain the two dimensions:

Perspectives – the supervisor uses their objectivity and their own experience/ knowledge to help the coach step back and gain a more balanced view of themselves and their practice. It’s all too easy to have feelings of self-doubt, or to make assumptions about the client and their world. A “helicopter” perspective acknowledges both what is happening on the ground and the bigger picture

Acceptance is about the coach’s potential to be, while energy is about potential to do. The effective supervisor helps the coach let go of unhelpful beliefs, assumptions and emotions; and to renew his or her stores of energy.

Restorative functions of an effective supervisor

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The functions in the matrix are drawn from our own experiences as supervisors and as coaches being supervised, as well as from the reflections of coaches, who have contributed to our research.

Self-awareness: To restore our fitness to coach, we need to understand what emotions and assumptions may be inhibiting us. Exploring how we feel about a client relationship, for example, gives us the choice to change how we feel

Identity: Especially at the early stages as a coach, people often suffer from an identity crisis. “Who am I as a coach?” can quickly become “Who am I as a person?”. Refocusing on values and how you contribute to the world around you creates the opportunity to be more accepting of who you are and – perhaps more important – who you are becoming.

Patience: Early stage coaches also are often in a hurry to acquire experience and track record, at the expense of reflecting deeply on the what they have experienced so far. Supervision can gently restore the balance, offering calm space to refocus on being rather than doing.

Faith in human nature: Most people come to the role of coach with a generally positive view of human nature, but this can be undermined by the experiences of their clients at the hands of manipulative bosses (or by clients, who try to manipulate the coach to their own ends). Effective supervisors have had their own faith in humanity tested many times and are able to help the coach put the behaviours of a few people into perspective.

Letting go of responsibility: Of course, coaches have responsibility towards clients and their sponsors, plus of course general responsibilities towards society and the coaching profession. Once again, a balance is important. Coaches often assume far too much responsibility for what the client does (or doesn’t do) as a result of coaching conversations. They feel guilty or inadequate, if the client doesn’t emerge from a session with a clear solution, or if the intended results of coaching don’t happen. In doing so, they are in effect usurping the client’s responsibilities for their own actions. Once again, the supervisor’s restorative role is about helping the coach work out what a reasonable balance of responsibility is.

Managing endings: Coaches get lots of training in how to start an assignment and how to hold a coaching conversation. One of the things they don’t usually get is training in how to deal with disengagement from the client. The closer and more intimate the relationship with the client has been, the harder to just walk away. Yet the coach must avoid creating dependency by prolonging the assignment. As they become more mature, coaches also bring to supervision issues of moving on within their business arrangements, as they outgrow commercial relationships, which seemed right before.

Self-belief: When things don’t work out as the coach feels they should have, the effective supervisor helps shift focus from self-blame to learning from experience. They help the coach remember and appreciate what they are like at their best and reflect upon how to make their norm more like their best.

Resilience: Coaches need coping strategies to back up after a knock-down. The supervisor provides both empathy and practical support in developing and applying such strategies.

Laughter: The ability of laughter to restore energy has been demonstrated in numerous clinical studies. (Freud analysed the mechanisms and impact of laughter 100 years ago!) Good supervision helps the coach to see the absurdity in complex situations (so putting them in perspective) and to laugh at themselves.

Sense of purpose: Most coaches go through periods of questioning why they are coaches. Supervision helps reconnect with your core values and aspirations – which are a key resource for recharging our internal batteries and rediscovering our enthusiasm.

Opportunities for personal growth: Having a sense of becoming better and better as a coach is an important self-motivator, but we are not always conscious of the progress we are making. Supervision helps us see how we are developing and identifies learning opportunities that align with our sense of purpose.

Opportunities for business growth: The skills of being a great coach and running a great business don’t necessarily go together. Again, effective supervision brings perspective and helps coaches achieve a balance of attention between their personal authenticity and the needs of their business.

© David Clutterbuck, 2015

Why mentors need supervision

9 Jul

All the coaching professional bodies in Europe and many bodies in other continents require coaches to have supervision. Few corporate buyers of coaching in Europe would hire a coach, who did not have a high level of formal qualification and regular, professional supervision. So why isn’t the same expected of mentors?

The traditional response has been to point to the amateur/ professional distinction. Executive coaches are typically seen as being professionals, and compared with other professions, such as therapy and counselling, where supervision has long been an essential part of continuous professional development, quality management and the maintenance of boundaries, especially in terms of client protection. Mentors, by contrast, have typically been seen as amateurs – less well-trained, operating in an unpaid capacity.

That assumption is increasingly questionable, for a number of reasons:
• The emergence of professional mentors, who have equal levels of training compared to their coach counterparts (plus substantial and relevant experience to the client’s role). When the European Mentoring & Coaching Council established the first competency framework for the field over a decade ago, it referred to coaches and mentors equally, recognising that both coaches and mentors could take on professional roles and that this required supervision. This prescience provides a ready platform for mentor supervision, at least in Europe.
• Mentoring programme managers in several countries, including the UK and Denmark, have offered group supervision to “ordinary” mentors, on the basis that they want to perform well in the role. These sessions provide an opportunity to surface problems within the mentoring programme, to create a sense of camaraderie amongst the mentors, and to support the mentors in gaining higher levels of knowledge and skills.
• Most executive coaching takes place in the context of achieving specific short-term skills or performance goals. A much smaller proportion addresses medium–term behavioural issues, and even less aims to achieve personal transformation. Mentoring, however, tends to be a longer-term relationship involving relatively high levels of disclosure and intimacy. It focuses on helping the mentee become rather than on what they do. The potential for boundary and other issues that need supervision to arise is therefore very similar to that for coaches working on deep behavioural and transformational issues.
• Mentors and mentees within the same organisation may be exposed to all sorts of pressures, from which they need to stand back. For example, the mentor’s knowledge of the system and its politics can be a great benefit; but it can also bring with it a lot of baggage. Supervision helps the mentor determine when and how to use their knowledge to beneficial effect; when to “park” their own knowledge; and how to separate their values, ambitions and career needs from those of their mentees.
• Executive coaching, by and large, is primarily an assignment – a finite contractual arrangement. Mentoring is primarily a relationship – and, like all relationships complex and difficult to understand from within. While international standards for mentoring recommend that mentor and mentee regularly review their relationship, supervision can help the mentor reflect more deeply on the relationship dynamics and how they and the mentee can achieve, for example, greater trust, openness and sense of purpose. One of the most common occurrences in mentoring is “relationship droop” – the sogginess that comes after six months or so, when the easy, surface issues have been dealt with. Through supervision, the mentor can work with the mentee to delve into deeper issues, with much greater potential impact on the mentee’s career. Similarly, the ending of a mentoring relationship can be difficult for both mentor and mentee. If the relationship simply fades away, both parties feel that they have in some way failed or been abandoned. This is almost never the case, when the mentor has a supervisor to discuss these emotions with and to help plan how to achieve a positive, fulfilling formal ending.

Britain’s National Health Service and the Danish trade union Djoef are two strong examples of organizations, which have embraced supervision as integral to the effectiveness of their mentoring programmes. But a handful of examples don’t make a trend. What is clear is that the professional bodies that incorporate mentoring, and the mentoring academies now springing up around the world, are all taking the topic seriously.

© David Clutterbuck, 2014